iFi Hip-DAC2 review: perfect and powerful pocket amplifier
iFi follows up on its popular hip flask-shaped DAC/headphone amplifier with a new iteration, the Hip-DAC2. Capable of powering even the most demanding wired headphones, the Hip-DAC2 is the perfect portable partner for any audiophile looking to take their Hi-Res audio with them. At just $189, you’re unlikely to find a better portable DAC/amp on the market right now.
- Brand: if I
- Formats supported: DSD, PCM, DXD, MQA
- Connector: 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone connectors
- Lester: 125g
- Battery: 2200mAh
- Maximum impedance: 32 ohms up to 600 ohms
- Bluetooth: No
- Dimensions: 102×70×14mm
- DAC chip: Burl Brown
- Very small and light
- Can drive a wide range of headphones
- Natural timbre and musicality
- True to all frequencies
iFi returns triumphantly with the new variation of its new Hip-DAC portable DAC/headphone amp, titled Hip-DAC2. Aside from the new orange colorway, we could forgive you for wondering what’s changed with this $189 upgrade.
The device has retained the odd flange shape (with the power button/volume dial looking like a little screw cap), but as we all know, that’s what’s inside. interior that matters, and with the iFi Hip-DAC2, it Really account.
Want to know why you should pack this portable power station? OK then, read on; and at the end of this review, we’re giving away our review unit to one lucky reader!
Unboxing the Hip-DAC2
The Hip-DAC2 is small and portable, so the box it comes in isn’t much bigger than the device itself. When you open the box, you will find:
- USB 3.0 cable
- USB-A to USB-C cable
- OTG cable
- Device Documentation
It’s all you need to take your audiophile quality sounds with you, other than a source and some headphones, of course!
Take the iFi Hip-DAC2 Tour
With the device ready to go, what exactly are we looking at? Well, in case you’re unfamiliar with the original Hip-DAC, we’re looking at a device that perfectly replicates the shape of a little flask, the variety you could put a dram of your favorite single malt into (don’t try stick a dab of tape in your new DAC, though).
The body is made of extruded aluminum and comes in a very pleasant sunset orange color, with the iFi logo in black in the front center. It measures 102 x 70 x 14 mm (4.02 x 2.76 x 0.55 inches) and weighs just 125 grams (4.41 oz), so it really is the portable device you want to take anywhere with you. YOU.
At the top of the device we have a selection of buttons, dials and outputs. From left to right we have the Power Match button with its associated LED indicator; the Xbass button with LED; the volume wheel/power button is in the center, with LED lights on either side; then the two outputs for your headphones, in 4.4mm (balanced) and 3.5mm (unbalanced) configurations.
All the buttons are physical rather than capacitive, which is nice, and the volume dial spins with a buttery smoothness, providing a sense of quality from that initial faint click that lets you know you’ve just turned on the DAC.
At the bottom of the device, you’ll see a USB-A input for connecting your phone or PC to the Hip-DAC2, and a USB-C charging input.
Overall, the Hip-DAC2 is very well built, with a nice solid feel in the hand, and low weight, which is important when we consider you’ll be carrying it around in your pocket or bag with you.
Hip-DAC 2: Specifications
So the Hip-DAC2 may look quite similar to the OG Hip-DAC, but iFi certainly beefs things up to make its purchase justifiable. For starters, iFi integrated a 16-core XMOS chip to process audio over USB. The previous iteration had an 8-core chip. This means that the Hip-DAC2 has doubled the clock speed of the original and now brings four times more memory than version one.
The Hip-DAC2 also contains a Burr Bown True Native DAC chipset. This allows you to listen to music bit-accurately, i.e. the sound remains unchanged after processing, meaning no fidelity is lost. Basically, the sound you hear is the same sound the artist produced in the studio, just as you should hear it.
With this in mind, the latest Hip-DAC2 also offers full MQA (Authenticated Master Quality) decoding, rather than just rendering files according to the previous iteration. This means that, once again, you’ll be able to listen to music the way the artist intended you to hear it, with the same level of fidelity and detail as it left the studio.
iFi has also upgraded the GMT (Global Master Timing) crystal clock system, which means jitter is reduced, so audio playback of digital audio will be better with this improved clock.
Jitter, essentially, is a slight error in the timing of sound samples as they travel from the source to the amp or DAC, which then converts the digital signal to an analog signal, which means it can sound distorted when you finally hear the sound in your headphones. Ideally, the timing should stay the same, but it doesn’t, which is why you want to reduce jitter as much as possible.
The Hip-DAC2 also supports Hi-Res Audio, with full range file playback meaning you can play everything from MP3 to full DXD384. So whether you’re playing lossy files or opting for the best quality available, you can be sure the iFi Hip-DAC2 can handle it all.
It should please you to know that, despite connecting to your smartphone via the USB-C port, the Hip-DAC2 has its own power supply. It takes about three hours to fully charge, according to iFi (I actually tested it at 2.5 hours with a 66W charger), and then you get about eight hours of use, depending on which headphones you’re using. (note, this only works with wired headphones, not wireless).
The Hip-DAC2 can be used to charge other devices using the OTG charger, and if the battery runs out of juice, you can plug it into a power source and continue to use it while charging , meaning it’s excellent for non-stop use. music that doesn’t drain your smartphone battery.
Finally, in terms of output power, you get 400mW at 32 ohms and 6.3V at 600 ohms via the balanced output, and 280mW at 32 ohms or 3.2V at 600 ohms from the unbalanced output. So, despite its small size, the iFi Hip-DAC2 should have the capabilities to power even the most demanding on-ear or over-ear boxes.
So, specs aside, let’s see how this little beast performs in practice.
iFi Hip-DAC2: pure pocket performance
I’ve been using the Hip-DAC2 for several weeks now, pairing it with both my smartphone (an Honor Magic5 Pro) and my laptop for music playback from Tidal (for MQA) and Roon (for FLAC). I also paired it with two sets of (very different) cans to test its mettle, see if it can improve the sound of my headphones, and see if it can drive a pair of beefy over-ears.
First, I paired the Hip-DAC2 with a set of Moondrop Aria IEMs. These are inexpensive IEMs, with a fairly narrow soundstage and imaging. They sound great, but they sound great with the iFi Hip-DAC2 powering them. The soundstage opens up somewhat to provide additional space in which to place instruments and vocals, with better precision than before.
The bass produced by the Arias is also a little unobtrusive, so it pleased me when the Hip-DAC 2 offered bass extension to the overall sound; even more so with the Xbass function active. Tracks like Buggin’ Out from A Tribe Called Quest come to life on the low end with the help of the Hip-DAC2, when paired with the Arias.
Similarly, the Aria’s low-mids don’t have as much presence (no surprise, considering the bass is set back), but the Hip-DAC2 managed to push the male vocals forward in the mix, to the point that they were tied with the female voices. in terms of presence. Brian Eno’s We Let It In sounds fantastic with the Hip-DAC2, where Eno’s low-mid vocals had previously receded a bit.
The highs from the Aria are excellent, with a clear, sparkling quality, and I’m happy to say that the Hip-DAC2 gives the highs an even airier feel, maintaining crisp, clean highs so the upper register never tires. , and always delights the listener with crystal clear quality.
On my Audeze LCD-5 (you can read my review of the Audeze LCD-5 here) headphones (note, I tested with a 6.35-3.5mm converter). They really are flagship cans, and they’re planar magnetic, so response is excellent across all frequency ranges. I was initially bummed, wondering if the iFi Hip-DAC2 would drive these headphones until I realized some idiot who was definitely not me had turned down the volume on my smartphone.
The antics out of the way, and I was soon nodding to a perfectly recreated and represented sound. The Hip-DAC2 was more than enough to power the Audeze LCD-5 (which actually has very low impedance anyway), and the two worked in wonderful harmony with each other, with the Hip-DAC2 delivering detailed sound with fantastic response, than the Audeze LCD-5 Tuning popping out of the soundstage in front of my ears. The pairing looks sublime, to say the least.
Where the Hip-DAC 2 came into play here was, again, adding punch to the bass. The Audeze LCD-5s are open-backed, so you can imagine that at lower volumes the bass might need a bit more to really have the impact it deserves. Not with all songs, mind you. Either way, the Hip-DAC2 put the bass front and center, without making the rest of the frequencies muddy or overwhelmed.
Overall, the Hip-DAC2 has no problem delivering audiophile quality sound, which should satisfy even the most critical audio snobs, especially at this price point. You’re unlikely to find a portable DAC with better sound at this price, in today’s market. I literally have nothing negative to say about this DAC/amp.
Recommend the iFi Hip-DAC2
I would definitely recommend iFi’s funky little DAC. It’s a beautiful device, with excellent craftsmanship, sturdy build quality and great features. Sound-wise, at this price, you’re absolutely onto a winner. I’m literally unable to find fault with the Hip-DAC2 other than the slightly long cables, so I have no qualms about giving this device a perfect rating.
Whether you’re looking for a cheap portable DAC that can truly offer its Hi-Res Audio certification, or you’re looking to swap out your existing DAC for a new one, the Hip-DAC2 should be at the top of your list. Plug any pair of headphones into this pocket rocket and your ears are here for the time of their life. In short, for $189 this is definitely a DAC you want on your person at all times.